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Investment in early years can save millions for future generations - Minister Fitzgerald

 

Minister addresses Seanad on economic benefits of early intervention

Minister reiterates her support for introduction of a second free pre-school year

 

Wednesday 6th March 2013

 
Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Children & Youth Affairs, has today said that Government should reassess the overall level of public spending on early intervention programme and seek to increase the proportion of public monies spent on direct service provision for children.

Addressing Seanad Éireann, the Minister said that the current climate of fiscal constraint should not deter us from having this important debate given the increasing body of evidence highlighting the economic and societal returns on investments in early intervention.

The Minister stated: “Early intervention must become part of our national psyche and investing in children’s early years should be an ‘economic imperative’.”

The Minister told Senators that “we have had a legacy of providing direct cash payments, instead of investing of services.”

The Minister added: “In 2013 my Department will spend just over €260 million on service provision in areas of early intervention and childcare. This is in stark contrast to the billions spent by Government on cash payments. I think there is a growing acceptance that the spend on direct services represents too small a proportion of the state’s overall spend; a proportion which I believe needs be increased. In light of the publication last month of the Report of Tax & Welfare Advisory Group, what I am asking is: whether we should reassess our overall levels of spending on service provision, in particular on early intervention and childcare services – services which improve children’s outcomes while also supporting parents?”

The Minister reiterated her support for introduction of a second free pre-school year, stating: “I have also been clear and consistent in my aspiration, subject to increased funding, and putting in place the necessary training and workforce supports, to introduce a second universal free pre-school year. This would cost an additional €200 million per annum, but could be introduced on a phased basis. Is this an investment worth making? That’s the debate I want to have. It’s a debate, I believe, is worth having; and I look forward to your engagement in this debate.”

Minister Fitzgerald also told Senators that “childcare not only supports parents’ labour force participation, but is itself a direct activation measure. A second free pre-school year could likely generate 4,000-5,000 new positions.”

Minister Fitzgerald said it is timely that work is now at an advanced stage on Ireland’s first-ever National Early Years Strategy.

The Minister outlined how she wants this strategy to address the big questions about:
  • the scale of national investment in the early years;
  • the future design of early years and childcare programmes
  • the further development of associated parental support and child health services; building on proven best practice.
 
Economic benefits of early intervention

Addressing Senators, Minister Fitzgerald referred to the increasing body of evidence outlining the economic and societal return on investment in early intervention.

The Minister stated: “we are now getting startling insights into how the brain works and what inputs are needed to optimise its development. It is clear that the human brain is at its most sensitive in the first three years after birth and this is providing an unquestionable rationale for investing more in quality early years interventions.”

The Minister added that economists have now calculated the return on early intervention to be in excess of €7 for every €1 spent. This includes significant savings in the areas of remedial education, school drop out rates, welfare and crime.

The Minister referred to separate research conducted by the Geary Institute at University College Dublin has found that “children who spent any amount of time in centre-based childcare prior to school entry were rated higher than children who did not experience any centre-based childcare in the domains of social competence, language and cognitive development, and communication and general knowledge.”

The Minister referred to analyses by Columbia University in the US which has found medium-term cost-savings to the state of New York from investment in early care and education ranging from over $2,500 to nearly $10,000 per child.
 
 
Population Increase

The Minister stated while that the universal free pre-school year has proven a phenomenal success, with 94 % of all qualifying age pre-school children now participating, there remained many challenges such  as improving the affordability and accessibility of childcare and enhancing quality in early years services.

The Minister said these challenges were all the more critical given latest statistics which indicate that our preschool population has increased, according to the last census by nearly 18% since 2006.  The Minister stated that “this is an immensely valuable national resource offering unprecedented potential for Ireland’s future; but which of course also presents huge challenges in our planning for the future.”
 
Ends.../

Minister Fitzgerald's Statement to the Seanad